2012 Nelson Bays rugby final
Story by: Wayne Martin - Nelsonmail - Photo by: Chris Symes
After some harrowing hiccups on the big stage in recent seasons, Galbraith Group Nelson rounded off a dream season with a 30-10 win over Accessman Stoke in Saturday's Car Company Nelson Bays club rugby final at Trafalgar Park.
In the best season of their 144-year history, Nelson's 17th straight win of 2012 added the Murray Strange Memorial Trophy to their impressive list of season trophies.
It was by no means a clear-cut victory, with Nelson having to recover from a 10-6 halftime deficit after Stoke had scored the only try of the first spell from a superb piece of opportunism by halfback Shawn Begg.
A clean break by impressive winger Brenton Connell with four minutes of the half remaining - one of two he'd create during the first half - saw him kick the ball into Nelson's dead ball area.
A covering dive by Nelson No 10 James Lash appeared to defuse the situation, although the officials ruled he hadn't touched the ball, awarding the fast-following Begg the try.
Nelson struggled to get their hands on the ball during the first half as Stoke's forwards dominated possession.
Nelson still looked dangerous in their limited opportunities, particularly whenever powerful No 8 Shane Christie got the chance to test Stoke's defences.
Christie had a colossal game, always penetrative with ball in hand and menacingly effective at the breakdowns. And it was his steal late in the game, with Stoke trailing 23-10 and hammering Nelson's line, that eventually enabled Nelson fullback and skipper Robbie Malneek to create and then finish the game's final try.
Centre Farrell Mulipola had helped put Nelson in front 13-10 directly after the restart when he ended a strong attack in the corner.
And when midfielder Andrew Goodman sauntered between the posts 10 minutes later to help put Nelson ahead 20-10, it appeared as though Nelson were about to finally distance themselves.
A Lash penalty increased Nelson's lead to 23-10 before a strong period of pressure by Stoke's hard-working forward pack threatened to undo some of Nelson's earlier hard work.
A more efficient Stoke lineout and an effective rolling maul heaped the pressure back on Nelson.
But Nelson's defence held superbly and when Christie again finally turned over Stoke ball inside his own quarter, Malneek spied his chance.
With Lash and Steve Alfeld continuing the momentum, Malneek eventually accepted the final pass to complete a superb 80m counterattack.
A relieved but delighted Nelson coach Murray Scott put the win down to one word - possession.
"The first half, we didn't have any possession and to play our game, we need a certain percentage," he said. "We can survive on 50 per cent, but the first half, Stoke really controlled [the ball].
"It was just a matter at halftime of saying, ‘all we've got to do boys is try and get some possession'.
"We were asking questions of them all the time. When we had the ball in that first half, we were getting beyond them, but we just didn't have enough of it."
Besides Christie, fellow loosies Shane Grieve and Mitchell Thwaites were also constantly in the thick of the action as Nelson began to achieve more second half momentum.
Stoke were rarely out of the contest though, with Scott acknowledging their relentless efforts.
"I was nervous when [Stoke] were staying in it, but when the possession started to come right and our lineout started to come right, I was confident that we could produce a game that would probably get us across the line."
Stoke coach Gary Alsop paid tribute to his team's brave efforts, while also acknowledging Nelson's allround class.
"At the contact area, they were just so strong... the likes of Shane Christie, he'd take the ball forward and they just got in behind us," said Alsop.
"We had some really good chances in that second half and I think we could have got back into it, but it wasn't to be. I think the boys were a bit tired to tell you the truth."
He agreed that Malneek's final counter-attacking try really illustrated why Nelson has been such a potent force throughout the season.
"That is their strength and it took them a while to use their strength. That was the idea, to shut them off from the ball. We did that effectively I think but after a while we just got worn down."
For Malneek, it was a proud moment to finally be able to celebrate the end of a remarkable season.
"The Stoke guys played really well and they kept the ball away from us and held onto it," said Malneek.
"We knew they were going to do that, so we just needed to combat them up front and I can't say enough about our forwards, they played bloody well. They gave us that ball and that turnover by [Shane] Christie was just awesome."
Finally, all that was left was for Malneek and his Nelson teammates to celebrate a superb season and to finally bury some distasteful memories of past years.
"It's awesome. It's a big monkey off the back, that's for sure."
Nelson 30 (Farrell Mulipola, Andrew Goodman, Robbie Malneek tries, James Lash 3 pens, 3 cons) Stoke 10 (Shawn Begg try, Jake Beleski pen, con) Ht 6-10.